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What Should You Do for Pollinator Week? Go Bumble Bee Watching!

By Rich Hatfield on 16 June 2021
Rich Hatfield

National Pollinator Week is an annual celebration of the wonderful animals that pollinate our farm fields and gardens, and maintain a diversity of plants, and the food and shelter they provide for wildlife, in our ecosystems. Many animals, from songbirds and small mammals to grizzly bears and coyotes get a large portion of their diet from the berries, nuts, seeds, and other fruits that pollinators help produce. Taking a week to collectively celebrate these animals that help feed the planet, seems like the least we can do.

For too long these beautiful animals were underappreciated. We took their contributions for granted, and this negligence unfortunately pushed some to the brink of extinction. Once widespread throughout much of the Eastern United States, the rusty patched bumble bee is now restricted to a few pockets that represent a fraction of its historic range. It has been protected under the Endangered Species Act. The monarch butterfly, once present in gardens and grasslands throughout the U.S., has also experienced dramatic declines; notably, the western migratory population that overwinters on the California coast, has shrunk by more than 99% since the 1980s. Currently, it has no protection.

 

A yellow and black bumble bee with a rusty brown patch of color on its abdomen is drinking nectar from a narrow pink flower
The rusty patched bumble bee (Bomus affinis) was the first bee in the continental US to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Observations and records gathered by community scientists contributed to the body of knowledge that showed it deserved protection. (Photo: Xerces Society / Rich Hatfield.)

 

During Pollinator Week many organizations across the country are organizing events to install pollinator gardens and encourage us to take action. One activity that we will encourage you to do this Pollinator Week (and all summer long) is to go bumble bee watching. This is not only fun, but also a great way to contribute to real conservation science.

Bumble Bee Watch is the community science platform that we use to collect observations of bumble bees—the charismatic megafauna of the backyard safari—throughout North America. Individuals can take photos of bumble bees they observe, upload them via the web site or phone app, and help build knowledge of where species occur and how they are faring. These records not only help us to track populations, including rare and endangered species, but also serve as a treasure trove of information to help improve plant recommendations for habitat projects and inform advocacy efforts. Bumble Bee Watch now serves as the platform for bumble bee atlas projects in seven states (OR, WA, ID, CA, NE, MO, and MN).

 

The black hairs that cover the rear segments of this yellow-and-black bumble bee shine in the sunshine as it forages on a pink flower
Even sightings of common species help build a more accurate picture of the distributions and status of bumble bees across the U.S. and Canada. (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson.)

 

We launched Bumble Bee Watch, alongside Wildlife Preservation Canada, York University, and other partners, in 2013, and it now gathers over 20,000 records annually. This year we hope to get our 100,000th observation—and maybe that observation will be yours!

You can go bumble bee watching most anywhere. The best way that you can help, however, is to go bumble bee watching while out in nature. Learning which plants bumble bees are using in yards and gardens is interesting, and a great way to get started, but most bumble bee species that we find near our homes are generally secure, and their populations are not in danger. (A big exception to this is the endangered rusty patched bumble, whose last stronghold appears to be in urban and suburban areas in the upper Midwest.) Of more interest to conservation biologists is understanding which native plants bumble bees are using to persist in natural areas outside of towns and cities. That is the information that has the potential to really help us learn how to better manage our lands.

 

A bright golden-orange flower with five petals fills this photograph. In the middle of the flower is a black and yellow bumble bee
The yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) is widespread along the West Coast, and is frequently found in gardens and natural areas. (Photo: Xerces Society / Mace Vaughan.)

 

So, this Pollinator Week and through the rest of the summer, head out into natural areas (or anywhere you can reach) and keep your eyes peeled for the fuzzy bumble bees buzzing from flower to flower and snap a picture. Don’t forget to document the plant it was visiting so that we can use that information to help conserve them. You can submit your sighting to Bumble Bee Watch using our mobile apps (iOS or Android) or our newly updated web site. Your contributions will benefit the work that we do every day here at the Xerces Society, and help to improve those pollinator gardens and habitats to create an enduring refuge for pollinators. Thank you!

I think that we can all agree that helping the creatures that help to feed us, is the very least we can do. Noticing them, and taking and sharing a picture, is a great way to start.

 

Further Reading

Learn more about Bumble Bee Watch.

Download apps for iOS or Android.

Find information about our regional bumble bee atlases.

Find out what else you can do to help Bring Back the Pollinators.

 

Authors

Rich manages all aspects of the Xerces Society’s work on bumble bees. Rich has a master’s degree in conservation biology from San Francisco State University, and he joined the Xerces Society in 2012. While earning his degree, his thesis focused on local- and landscape-level factors that contribute to bumble bee species richness and abundance. He has also investigated native bee pollination in agricultural systems in the Central Valley of California and researched endangered butterflies in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest.

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